TIME Google

Google Is Bringing Virtual Reality to the Classroom

Sundar Pichai, senior vice-president of Products for Google Inc., speaks during the Google I/O Annual Developers Conference in San Francisco, California, U.S., on Thursday, May 28, 2014. Google Inc. executives are taking the stage this week to talk about a plethora of new technologies, including automobiles, home automation, digital TV, Web-connected devices and a new version of Android. Photographer: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg *** Local Caption *** Sundar Pichai
David Paul Morris—© 2015 Bloomberg Finance LP Sundar Pichai, senior vice-president of Products for Google Inc., speaks during the Google I/O Annual Developers Conference in San Francisco, California, U.S., on Thursday, May 28, 2014.

Super-cheap VR has found a home

In 2014, Google made a virtual reality viewer out of cardboard. In 2015, it’s turning it into a teaching tool for school classrooms.

The Google Cardboard headset, which is mostly made out of cardboard and works with Android phones and special apps, turned out to be a hit beyond just a gimmick at the company’s developer conference last year. Clay Bavor, Google vice president of product management said on-stage at this year’s Google I/O conference Thursday that it’s shipped more than 1 million cardboard headsets in the past year. There are also hundreds of cardboard-compatible apps in Google’s app store.

But now, Google is bringing is cheap and easy set to the classroom, helping teachers take their students on virtual field trips with Cardboard units, mobile devices, and software.

Dubbed “Expeditions,” Google’s program is partnering with organizations such as the Planetary Society and the American Museum of Natural History for content. Through Expeditions, teachers will receive a kit for their classrooms which will include cardboard viewers for each student, Android phones, a tablet, and pre-installed software that will keep all the viewers synced together. All the teacher has to do is get the virtual field trip going on their device to send the whole class on a trip together.

Bavor also said Google is releasing a new version of its cardboard viewer, which will now support phones with 6-inch displays and all Android phone models (it previously only fit certain ones). It will also only require three steps to assemble instead of 12.

TIME Autos

Watch BMW Test Driverless Cars and Virtual Reality

With tech companies on its heel, the top premium car maker taps the Internet to try and win the next race

Automakers have never had so much in common with Silicon Valley. Car makers are increasingly relying on technology to develop, market and sell cars to consumers. In fact, most of the world’s major auto companies established research and development labs of one sort or another in the Bay Area. BMW and Volkswagen set up shop there in 1998, General Motors in 2006, Toyota and Ford in 2012, Renault-Nissan in 2013. The automotive industry spends some $100 billion globally on R&D annually, about 16% of the world’s total for all industries.

Likewise, Bay Area firms are also increasingly interested in autos. Ever since the dawn of the personal computer, Silicon Valley has been inventing or reinventing new gadgets: the music player, the phone, the computer first as a phone and, later, as a tablet. Amazon remade the mall. Netflix and YouTube remade TV. Elon Musk’s Tesla notwithstanding, the last great remaining American preoccupation that tech hasn’t widely tackled is the automobile.

MORE: See Inside BMW’s Secret Design Lab

But automakers have a significantly more difficult task integrating technology into their vehicles. Where a new version of an Android phone, for example, might be reasonably expected to last its owner two or three years, most cars are on the roads for decades. That means built-in technology has to last over a much longer time fame. Legislation, as the fights over Tesla’s dealership model and Google’s self-driving cars have shown, can be limiting. And some high-tech bells and whistles simply never take. For every innovation like GPS navigation, there’s a numeric key pad.

In this video, TIME looks at how the top-selling premium manufacturer BMW is exploring new technology ranging from self-driving vehicles to virtual reality in an effort to keep pace with the competition.

TIME GoPro

Next Up for GoPro: Virtual Reality and Drones

GoPro goes public on Wall Street
Seth Wenig—AP GoPro's CEO Nick Woodman holds a GoPro camera in his mouth as he celebrates his company's IPO at the Nasdaq MarketSite in New York, June 26, 2014.

GoPro made its name strapping rugged cameras onto helmets. Now it's pushing into virtual reality and drones

Virtual reality is becoming the name of every big tech company’s game. That includes GoPro, the company that gave extreme sports enthusiasts a camera they can strap onto their helmets.

At the Code tech conference outside Los Angeles Wednesday, GoPro CEO Nick Woodman unveiled the company’s next product: A camera system for snapping images that can be turned into virtual reality.

The new awkwardly named product, Six-Camera Spherical Array, will be available sometime in the second half of the year for an as yet undisclosed price. As the name implies, it’s made up of six cameras.

GoPro previously acquired a startup named Kolor, whose technology is serving as the backbone of the virtual reality camera system. Kolor’s software will turn the photo and video shots into virtual reality while people can use its smartphone app to view the imagery.

To get the full effect of virtual reality, users would have to don virtual reality headsets like Oculus, Google Cardboard, and Microsoft’s HoloLens. For smartphones, YouTube 360 and Kolor’s apps also work.

Woodman also said that GoPro [fortune-stock symbol=”GPRO”] is working on a drone — a quadcopter, in this case — that is slated to come out in the first half of 2016. Again, no details about pricing.

Woodman also added that while the company is working on its own drone, it would continue to work with other manufacturers whose drones can be equipped with GoPro’s cameras.

 

TIME oculus

Oculus’ Virtual Reality Headset Will Cost You Some Very Real Dollars

Inside The 2014 E3 Electronic Entertainment Expo
Bloomberg—Bloomberg via Getty Images An attendee wears an Oculus VR Inc. Rift Development Kit 2 headset to play a video game during the E3 Electronic Entertainment Expo

The virtual reality headset is expected to come out next year. But is the price tag too expensive?

Video gamers may have to fork out some very real money if they want to play using Facebook’s Oculus Rift virtual reality gear. The geeky looking headset and accompanying electronics will cost $1,500.

But Oculus CEO Brendan Iribe made it clear Wednesday at the Code tech conference in Southern California that the big price tag is only for people who are starting from scratch in buying the technology. It is expected to go on sale sometime next year.

“We are looking at an all-in price, if you have to go out and actually need to buy a new computer and you’re going to buy the Rift … at most you should be in that $1,500 range,” Iribe said on stage.

Oculus is developing a headset, which looks like a big pair of ski goggles, that lets users play games and interact with other content in virtual reality. Oculus’s product — along with virtual reality technology in general — are hailed as the next generation in video games mainly because of the immersive experience it gives users. The idea behind the technology is to help people feel like they’re truly inside the game or content’s world.

Gaming publication Polygon has pegged the average computer needed to use Oculus’s gear at around $1,200, which means the headset itself will cost about $300 as expected. Iribe added, however, that he hopes to see the total price of using Oculus drop to $1,000 — still pricey, but an improvement from $1,500.

The company first raised $2.4 million via a crowdfunding campaign, before raising another $91 million in venture funding and selling to Facebook for $2 billion in 2014.

TIME facebook

How Oculus and Facebook Could Finally Work Together

Inside The 2014 E3 Electronic Entertainment Expo
Bloomberg—Bloomberg via Getty Images An attendee wears an Oculus VR Inc. Rift Development Kit 2 headset to play a video game during the E3 Electronic Entertainment Expo

Researchers have proposed sci-fi tech that would let users of the social network interact through virtual reality

Facebook’s virtual reality arm, Oculus, may one day help people interact on the social network. The idea: use the technology to create a digital stand-in for users.

Researchers teamed up with Oculus found that they could read the smiles, frowns and other facial movements of people wearing the Oculus headset and then recreate them in an avatar. They theorized that Facebook could let users incorporate their doppelgangers into its service.

The researchers, including from University of Southern California, hung a 3D camera from an Oculus Rift headset to monitor the person wearing it. The software scanned the person’s facial expressions and copied them onto a digital stand-in, whose head moved and reacted as if alive.

As Pfsk noted, one of the biggest challenges is that the Oculus headset covers the upper half the face (the headset resembles big ski goggles). The team worked around this by attaching eight sensors to the foam liner inside the headset. The team then used software to capture the facial movements of the muscles under the headset, and combined that data with what the camera collected.

Facebook hasn’t gone into detail about how it plans to use the Oculus headsets after they become publicly available in 2016. But the gaming industry is particularly interested in the technology because of its ability to enhance interactivity. Digital chatting could also be a good fit. People in different places could talk in virtual face-to-face exchanges, although it’s unclear how that would be an improvement over video chatting.

Founded in 2012, Oculus first raised $2.4 million via a crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter, before raising an additional $91 million in venture capital. Facebook acquired the company in 2014 for $2 billion.

TIME Google

Google Dropped a Major Hint About its Next Big Product

FRANCE-TECHNOLOGY-BUSINESS-COMPANY-GOOGLE
Thomas Samson—AFP/Getty Images A Google employee presents a Google Cardboard virtual reality headset for android smartphones during a Google promotion event at the City of Fashion and Design (Cite de la mode et du design) in Paris on November 4, 2014.

New features are coming to Google's virtual reality headset

Google Cardboard, the tech giant’s low-cost virtual reality product, is going to be getting some big upgrades this year — and the new features likely won’t be made of cardboard, according to Gizmodo.

The idea of Google Cardboard, which is literally made of cardboard, is that it can cheaply turn a smartphone into a virtual reality set. The product was announced at last year’s Google [fortune-stock symbol=”GOOG”] I/O event. This year’s event is where Clay Bavor, Google’s product management and user experience chief for Gmail, Google Drive, and Google Apps, says the new features will be announced.

Gizmodo notes that some of the limitations of the original Google Cardboard — for instance, the lack of a head strap and the limited vision field — could be fixed in upcoming versions.

TIME Virtual Reality

The Best Virtual Reality Headset Goes on Sale Early Next Year

Oculus Rift
Oculus VR Oculus Rift

Oculus Rift has put a release date on the commercial version of its device

The long-awaited commercial version of the Oculus Rift virtual reality headset will begin shipping to customers in the first quarter of 2016, Oculus VR announced Wednesday. The Rift, which has been widely praised for its high level of immersion, has so far only been available in a developer’s version. Oculus will begin accepting pre-orders for the device later this year.

Facebook bought Oculus for $2 billion last March in a move both surprising and a sign that virtual reality is one of the next-big ticket bets in Silicon Valley. While Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has long-term plans to develop Oculus into a “communication platform,” the Rift for now remains primarily focused on gaming experiences.

“It’s a system designed by a team of extremely passionate gamers, developers, and engineers to reimagine what gaming can be,” Oculus said in a blog post announcing the new shipping window.

Further details about the commercial version of Rift are expected to be announced at E3, an annual California gaming expo set for June 16-18.

Facebook is not the only tech giant investing in VR. Sony has a virtual reality headset called Morpheus in the works for PlayStation 4, while Microsoft is taking a slightly different tack with its augmented-reality headset HoloLens. HTC and Samsung are also working on virtual reality headsets, though the latter’s product is the result of a partnership with Oculus.

TIME Microsoft

Microsoft Just Showed Off the Insanely Weird Future of Computing

The HoloLens can pin Windows directly to your living room wall

Microsoft offered a glimpse of what Windows will look like within the HoloLens, an augmented reality headset that brings familiar Windows apps like Word and Outlook into the physical space around users in a way never before possible.

Project lead Alex Kipman, who unveiled the HoloLens in January, took the stage at Microsoft’s BUILD conference Wednesday to offer a preview of Windows 10 running on the new device. In a mock-up of a living room, a developer wearing the headset pulled up three holographic windows that hung like framed pictures on the wall.

“Instead of digging through menus, everything is right where he wants it,” Kipman said as the developer walked around the space and the windows appeared to adjust to his viewing angle. The developer pulled up new apps by air-tapping a floating start menu.

The demonstration showed off how easily HoloLens wearers can move Windows apps around a physical space. A media player, for instance, could be detached from the wall with one tap. The voice command, “follow me,” made the floating app glide behind the user, ready to be pinned and scaled on another wall.

“Every single universal Windows app has the same capabilities,” said Kipman to the Windows developers gathered in the crowd, an audience that’s crucial to Microsoft’s attempt at re-thinking how computing might work in three dimensions. The HoloLens’ real test will come once the “wow” factor of a floating operating system wears thin and developers begin cooking up new ways to use the device.

At Wednesday’s event, Microsoft revealed two groups of test users, one made up of students and one of architects, are working with the HoloLens team to come up with new uses for the device. The architects have been able to build and share blueprints in three dimensions, scaling up the models to take walking tours through their designs. Case Western Reserve University’s Dr. Mark Griswold, meanwhile, was invited on stage to show how medical students could use the HoloLens in lieu of cadavers. A holographic body could be separated into bones, muscles and arteries, and animations could give students their first look at the inside of a beating heart without using a scalpel.

“This could change how everyone learns,” Griswold said. “Chemistry and genetics, art, engineering, and paleontology.”

TIME technology

See How Virtual Reality Could Be the Future of Photojournalism

The Enemy, a virtual reality experience, puts you in the middle of a face-to-face encounter between combatants of opposing sides

At first, if it weren’t for the contraption that makes you look half-alien, half-astronaut, The Enemy, a virtual reality experience on show at the Tribeca Film Festival, would be akin to most exhibitions.

As you don the awkward oculus rift goggles and the backpack with the umbilical cord that ties you to the operating system, photos taken in the Palestinian Territories appear on opposing sides. As you would when touring a gallery, you approach either wall, focusing your attention on the scene depicted on the first image before moving on to the next. After a few moments, portraits of two adversaries, Abu Khaled, a garrison leader for the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, and Gilad, an IDF soldier, replace the depictions of everyday struggles. The two men don’t stay inanimate for long. At once, they take shape right in front of you, as sophisticated holograms answering questions about violence and peace.

The virtual conversation mirrors the interactions of an actual one. Come in too close to the simulated fighter, and they’ll draw back. Shift left or right and their gaze will follow you. Take a few step back and the volume of their voice weakens. After a few minutes, once the conversation is over, they fade away, leaving you alone in an empty room. At this point, removing the high-tech gear feels like waking up from an exceptionally vivid dream: you keep a distinct memory of the experience, yet are acutely aware that it was not real.

“I wanted to know what would happen if we took the likeness of the combatants I’ve photographed off the wall and breathed life into them,” says Karim Ben Khelifa, the mastermind behind The Enemy, which received funding and support from the Tribeca Film Institute’s New Media Fund. “How would people react? How would the public engage with them? And what impact would it have on their understanding or on how much they care?”

iThe Enemy/i, a virtual reality experience, puts you in the middle of a face-to-face encounter between combatants of opposing sides
Karim Ben KhelifaPhotography consultant Stephen Mayes testing The Enemy

For the better part of the last decade, the Tunisian photographer has dedicated himself to taking portraits of foes, especially those captive to entrenched conflicts, born with the hatred of the other, such as the Israeli-Palestinian hostilities or the India-Kashmir rift. Ben Khelifa sees it as a way to make the viewer – and, hopefully, bitter rivals – see the human being behind the fighter.

“Fundamentally, as journalists, we’ve always been trying to arouse empathy so that viewers will care for a situation happening miles from their home or to others,” he says. “When I began as a photographer, I wanted to work for the most renowned magazines in order to reach the largest audience and touch the most souls. With time, I grew increasingly frustrated with the lack of results.”

It turned out that three images in a newspaper spread were not enough to bring on change. Nor were a dozen shared online. Nor even fifty or sixty bound in a book or displayed as a show. “The challenge is to devise mechanisms that will grab and hold people’s attention long enough for you to tell a complex story,” he says, two years after he had his first virtual reality experience when he joined the MIT’s Open Documentary Lab.

Virtual reality, with its potential to offer a fully engrossing experience, might just be the way, he believes, though it’s not without obstacles. Producing such an elaborate project is exorbitantly costly and requires a wide set of skills. Over 45 people have worked on The Enemy – some of whom were dedicated to rendering exclusively and with utmost accuracy skin, hair or the slightest movement.

“It is essential to make the presence of the combatant feel as genuine as possible,” says Ben Khelifa. “By reacting to the viewer’s behavior, the hologram is acknowledging his presence, which in turn, creates a cognitive reaction of reciprocity. The hologram appears more real.” So much so, that though participants could walk through the simulated fighter, none of them has done so. During a demonstration in Paris, one woman fled when the combatants appeared, unsure of whether they were going to come after her, and another turned away from Abu Khaled. She wanted to hear what he had to say, but staring the masked man in the eyes made her uneasy.

Since starting the project two years ago and basing himself on the reactions of his users, Ben Khelifa has been tweaking and fine tuning the experience, keeping it as simple and intuitive as possible. “The difficulty is that I can’t fully control how everything unfolds,” he says. “Some of it is in the hand of the user who needs to feel some agency. There’s a fine balance that needs to be achieved between directing the viewer and giving him freedom. I could add an endless amount of sensorial experiences, but that could quickly become overwhelming.”

The prototype for The Enemy is currently on view at the Tribeca Film Festival as part of the Storyscapes programming alongside other interactive experiences. Ben Khelifa hopes that within the next 20 months he will be able to add seven more duos of fighters that will interact with the viewers in different manners. He will also spend that time devising ways to make it more accessible, creating a traveling installation that could welcome more than one person at a time as well as an app version to be experienced at home.

And, he has plans to record with more accuracy the reactions of participants, monitoring their heart rate, keeping track of how close or distant to each combatant they get and noting how attentive they are. “Analyzing people’s responses will give us insights that can help us become more effective storytellers,” he says.

Karim Ben Khelifa is a freelance photojournalist and a visiting scholar at the Open Documentary Lab at MIT in Cambridge. Follow him on Instagram @karimbenkhelifa and Twitter @kbenk. Follow The Enemy on Twitter @theenemyishere.

Laurence Butet-Roch is a freelance writer, photo editor and photographer based in Toronto, Canada. She is a member of the Boreal Collective.

TIME Innovation

Watch This New Virtual Reality Game Turn an Office Into a Robot-Infested Fight for Survival

The secretive Google-backed Magic Leap has released new footage of an augmented reality game

Magic Leap, the secretive company leading Google’s charge into “augmented reality,” has released video footage showing a gamer blasting away at robot invaders as they crash through the walls and drop from the ceiling of an ordinary-looking office space.

It’s unclear whether the video shows an actual game overlaid onto a real-world office space or just an artistic rendering of what the game might look like in the future. The way the gun rests so realistically in the gamer’s hand certainly raises suspicions. Still, a company spokesperson confirmed to Gizmodo that the video was authentic.

“This is a game we’re playing around the office right now,” Magic Leap wrote on its official YouTube account.

It was revealed last year that Google was leading a $542 million funding round for Magic Leap, which has yet to announce any kind of commercial product. However, the footage appears similar to the experience of using Microsoft’s new HoloLens, an augmented reality headset that company unexpectedly unveiled in January.

Read more: Here’s What It’s Like to Use Microsoft’s Amazing New Holographic Headset

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